Coaching planters into navigating common pitfalls in ecclesial startup

Over the long journey of starting an enduring form of missional ecclesia planters come up against many challenges as we surely know. But there are a host of early startup challenges that are particularly important for us coaches to have on our radar because of their potential to severely cripple a project at the outset. These commonly arise even when we’re coaching very well into our planter-client’s agenda at any given time, especially if we’re coaching inexperienced starters or leaders not prone to a learning posture.

Most who know me well will realize that I’ve captured at least 10 of the most common ones in the little booklet, 10 Pitfalls in Starting New Churches (2020 and findable on Amazon). Just the other day, I had the pleasure of hearing from one of my longstanding planter clients about how relevant these really are in his own long journey of church startup.  But he was citing an old essay that eventually became fodder for the book! His email was encouraging, as he was arguing for the validity today of all 12 top challenges I had identified through my interaction with planters in Europe and elsewhere some 15 years ago.

The current 10 Pitfalls book, while perhaps resonant on some themes, is much more than an amended form of those original challenges, however. I spent a lot of effort testing these with not only many hundreds of planters, but also among the primary leaders of several church planting networks.  And so, I thought it might be useful to again summarize why I think this could be an important resource for any church planting team.

In short, these pitfalls as described can be extremely helpful in helping a team define several solid lines for strategic coaching. As a long-experienced planter coach myself, who has also trained a good number of church planting coaches, I often remind coaches that any one of the pitfalls can seriously deplete momentum, or even snuff the life out of a project, if they remain unaddressed.  And though I do unpack 10 specific pitfalls, teams on the ground thankfully tend to come up against only 2 or 3 of them in any given season! Once a given team discerns which ones are most relevant to their situation, these can be solid coachable lines for many, many sessions. Of course, this means that the coach must allow the team to process the book first themselves! This I highly recommend.

Well, once again, let me offer that list of 10 common pitfalls that can seriously impede the progress of any church starting initiative. These are not captured, by the way, in any rank order.  For coaches, as you scan the list and interact over the booklet’s framing of each one, I invite you to apply them to each of your current planter clients. Even before each one of them discerns those they see as relevant in their team’s experience, you may recognize the “live” pitfalls they will eventually identify. More importantly, however, you may see one or two looming that they do not see, but really should. And those blindsides can be presented to the team to at least see how they’re discerning what impact inattention to them might have in both the short and longer term.

10 common pitfalls that can seriously impede the progress of any church starting initiative

  1. Discounting missional theology and its profound implications.
  2. Defining ourselves by what we’re against, not what we’re for.
  3. Failing to Lead Robustly AND in ways that impact culture.
  4. Letting tight finances and outside work demands inhibit progress.
  5. Undervaluing the creation of a safe, developmental team ethos.
  6. Neglecting evangelism and the cultivation of awakening spaces.
  7. Disregarding the need for diverse, collaborative leadership.
  8. Going public before road-testing our Identity and spiritual practices.
  9. Underrating the practice of discernment in team decision-making.
  10. Adopting vague, imposed, or poorly-discerned progress metrics.
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Dan Steigerwald

I help pioneering leaders and pastors engage fresh ways to lead and multiply mission-shaped communities while tending to their holistic formation along the way.  Having worked for 30+ years in cross-cultural missions, church planting and pastoring, I know personally how hard and soul-depleting ministry can become. Some wells from which I draw:  I hold a DMIN in Leadership in the Emerging Culture from Portland Seminary. My coach training is through Creative Results Management, and I have ACC credentialing under the International Coach Federation (ICF). Also, I have authored several practical books (see Amazon) around which I coach, train and teach: Dynamic Adventure: A Guide to Starting and Shaping Missional Churches (2017); Growing Local Missionaries: Equipping Churches to Sow Shalom in Their Own Cultural Backyard (2014); and Grow Where You’re Planted: Collected Stories on the Hallmarks of Maturing Church (2013).